I’ve spent a considerable amount of time this week reviewing the creative writing of Australia National University’s Fellow of State, Society & Government in Melanesia Program Mr. Anthony Regan. Having “specialized in constitutional development” in Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, East Timor and Uganda, Mr. Regan has recently submitted a proposed “transitional mining act” to the Parliament of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.
And, for those of you who are not familiar with Bougainville, a little history lesson is in order. Under a dubious entitlement mandate from the United Nations following the Second World War, the Australian government decided that it needed to take possession of the massive metal reserves in the island at the end of the Solomon chain and, in 1967, confiscated Bougainville for their exploitation while ‘facilitating’ independence for the state of Papua New Guinea. Over the well-documented opposition of many local communities, the Australian Administration and their appointees in the Papuan Administration, the 1967 Bougainville Copper Agreement Act became a supra-Constitutional Agreement between a territorial administration and Bougainville Copper Limited. As if to prove that they knew that they were violating international legal standards, clause 4 of the amended Act states that “no other law of Papua New Guinea, affects this Act or the Agreement.” In clause 5 of the amended Act, the Prime Minister (remember, the State had not yet been established) is granted the power to exclusively administer the Act without any consent, approval, or any other law. In other words, the Australians, in what amounts to unlawful territorial seizure, enacted a law above ANY sovereign law directly expropriating land for their exclusive economic exploitation. Oh, and for their $5 million trouble of exploring the mineral reserves, the Company (BCL) had to pay the extraordinary sum of 1.25% of ‘applicable revenue’ from the mine!
In an elaborate scheme reminiscent of the first theft of Bougainville’s assets, Mr. Regan has complied with the wishes of his paymasters and drafted a new mining bill that preserves nearly all the abuses embodied in the 1967 Act. To add insult to injury, his proposed bill reinforces the corruption quotient by burying in Clause 26 the nullification of the over 200 provisions with the simple empowerment of the Autonomous Bougainville Government to act unilaterally and without consideration of any law as it wishes. Using his “constitutional” expertise, he’s taken to the U.S. government’s definition of Constitutional Law – if it is expedient, do it and tread on the Constitution to get what you want (thanks GW and BO!).
Now Mr. Regan and BCL (along with Rio Tinto – the 54% owner of BCL) want to take advantage of the pro-autonomy movement in Bougainville and pull off another heist of gargantuan proportion. But they forget that the world is more interconnected. And while they and the BCL shareholders desperately want to take another malevolent trip around their merry-go-round of abuse, they are ignoring the simple fact that their “advice” and extra-governmental manipulation are now available for the world to see.
Whether the Panguna Mine opens or not is an issue that should be decided by the citizens of Bougainville – including those who participated in the armed uprising in 1989. But more fundamentally, we should examine what it would take to run an ethical, transparent operation – one that doesn’t require Australian academics to serve as advisory mercenaries to launder unethical behavior in the name of progress. If the citizens of Bougainville determine that they would like to see their land utilized for mineral extraction, that’s a call that they should make fully informed of all the facts. They should be informed of the state-of-the-art in development, mining, environmental management, power generation, and market participation at all capital levels. If Rio Tinto and BCL want to be candidates as future operators, they should step up to the damage that they’ve already done and evidence their candidacy for action not by manipulating the law but by being responsible citizens accountable for past harm.
This week, Australia has a chance to amend a blight on its post-War legacy in the Pacific. It can intervene in this miscarriage of due process. Together with the citizens of Bougainville, Australia can start from scratch and see if it can win in the full light of day rather than in the veiled obscurity of manipulation and corruption. We’ll see.